Setting Up ISNBs and ISJs Part 2: Procedures

Holly StuartBlog, Differentiate Better, Lesson Plan Better


  • This post shares procedures and tips for using ISNBs and ISJs. 
  • Make a classroom notebook, use a table of contents, and make the pages fit to the composition notebook.
  • Conduct weekly notebook checks.

Remember the Purpose of an ISNB/ISJ

In a recent Science Better blog post, I wrote about why I use an interactive science notebook (ISNB) and an interactive science journal (ISJ) in my classroom.

See my most recent post about setting up ISNBs and ISJs!

The purpose of the ISNB and ISJ is to teach students how to organize their information, process their learning, and develop their own understanding of the science content. These are powerful tools in the hands of learners. But it can be challenging to get started if you have never used them before. In this blog post, I will give you some strategies that have helped me successfully integrate ISNBs and ISJs in my instruction.

I hope that this blog post inspires some of you out there who have been struggling with the idea of using interactive science notebooks in your classrooms to give it a try. Click To Tweet

Lesson 1: Make a Classroom Notebook

Every year I make a classroom notebook right along with my students. A classroom notebook will show your students what the pages should look like when they are finished. This is helpful for students who have trouble visualizing the end result when they begin.

Building a classroom notebook also gives you an opportunity to judge pacing when using the notebook. You can see how long it took you to complete the activity, which will give you an idea of how long it will take your students to do the same.

And by creating your notebook with your students, you will have the flexibility to change things up if a new learning opportunity arises.

I update/add content to my pages once a week. I have found that this approach gives me sufficient time to be prepared for instruction. It also allows me the flexibility to incorporate activities resulting from student-led inquiry.

If you have everything done ahead of time, you won’t be able to fit in these learning opportunities. And if you do not prepare a classroom notebook at all, you might not understand the pitfalls and/or obstacles that students might encounter when they are working.

Lesson 2: Table of Contents

Middle school students are notorious for being unorganized—have you looked into the book bag of an 8th grader? It is a scary sight!

So I provide them with a structure that will help them learn how to organize their information. I print out a Table of Contents for all students to glue into their notebook in the very front. When used properly, this eliminates the random flipping through the book to find the page they are looking for.

In addition, by including the date, students can quickly narrow down the page number they are looking for if they know around when we did the activity by searching for the date. This year I also color-coded the classroom ISNB and ISJ so that the table of content entries for each unit are a different color. 

This way students know if they are looking for something from the Forces and Motion unit it will be purple, but if they are looking for something from the Waves unit it will be blue. I did not ask my students to color code this year but seeing how beneficial it is, I believe I will add this expectation next year.

Lesson 3: Print Settings

When giving students papers to glue into their notebooks, I set the print settings to 2 pages per paper. This shrinks the pages down to just the right size to glue into a composition notebook. If you have several papers that go together (like a notes packet), you can staple them together at the top and glue the whole packet in at once.

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Lesson 4: Notebook Checks

As a motivational tool, I also do ISNB and ISJ checks once a week for a minor grade and I use the Science and Engineering Practice of Obtaining and Communicating Information as the rubric. This helps my students understand the value of thinking like a scientist in how they collect and display their information.

I hope that this blog post inspires some of you out there who have been struggling with the idea of using interactive science notebooks in your classrooms to give it a try.

If you have any more questions for me about ISNBs, please don’t hesitate to connect with me and ask. If there are enough questions, it might even inspire another notebook-related blog post!

Also, please share your challenges, tips, tricks, and success stories with using ISNBs in your classroom. That way we can all learn from each other and continue to Science Better!

About Holly Stuart

Holly Stuart is an 8th grade science and design teacher in South Carolina. Her educational passions include finding new and innovative ways to get more students interested in STEAM, student-inspired discovery through inquiry, and learning science by doing science.

In addition to her out-of-the-box thinking in the classroom, she has successfully implemented The Grid Method into her teaching practice which led to her becoming a Teach Better Team Ambassador. Holly is married to her high school sweetheart and is a mother to three children.

When not teaching, she enjoys traveling and being outside with her family. Some of their favorite outdoor activities include hiking, running, and biking. (Holly often brings her telescope, binoculars, and microscopes with her on hikes!) Her indoor hobbies include reading, coloring, and learning more about sketchnoting and drawing.